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The influential magazine Consumer Reports is withdrawing a report on infant car seats. The article appears in the February issue. The magazine says the test may have been based on faulty data, and that the test would be conducted again. The retraction is a major embarrassment for the magazine that prides itself on rigorous independent testing of all kinds of consumer products.
NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.
JIM ZARROLI: The article in question bore the headline "What If This Were Your Child?" Above it were photos of an infant seat getting torn apart in a test car crash. The magazine said it had tested infant car seats by putting them through a side-impact crash at a speed of 38 mph, and that only two of 12 performed well.
Two others did so badly, the magazine called on the U.S. government to recall the seats. But this week, after the magazine was printed, Consumer Reports learned there may have been a major error in the data. Specifically, the force of the crash in the test was much higher than the magazine first believed, which would explain the fact that the seats were so badly damaged.
Ken Weine is a spokesman for the magazine.
Mr. KEN WEINE (Consumer Reports): Once we heard that the tests were conducted at a level higher than 38 miles an hour, we immediately wanted to conduct new tests to look at all aspects of the article, conduct an internal review and most importantly, communicate fully and ultimately to consumers with safety information.
ZARROLI: Weine said the tests were performed by an outside lab, unlike most of the tests conducted by the magazine. Not all of the findings have been called into question. For instance, there's no evidence of any errors in the data for front-impact crashes.
So the magazine said it would review all of the data anyway. Consumer Reports decided to retract the article after meeting with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency's administrator, Nicole Nason, said that 100 anxious parents had contacted her office on the night the report was released.
Ms. NICOLE NASON (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration): I was troubled by the report because it frightened parents, and it could have discouraged them from using car seats. And we know that car seats are the best defense for a child in a crash.
ZARROLI: Nason's agency is responsible for testing infant car seats, and so she says she was alarmed when she saw a video of the magazine's tests, which showed seats tumbling around and flying off their bases. So the agency decided to perform tests of its own.
Ms. NASON: We went out and purchased 11 of the 12 seats, all that we were able to find, and tested them in the same manner that Consumer Reports said they tested them in their article. And we found very different results.
ZARROLI: Nason says she's not sure what the magazine did wrong. But she notes that when vehicles are struck on their sides, the force pushes them sideways, and that movement mitigates the impact of the crash. Nason says the tests may not have properly accounted for that, which made damage to the car seats look more severe than it really would be.
One of the models that got the poorest ratings in the tests was made by Ohio-based Evenflo. The company yesterday defended the safety of its seats, and said it look forward to reviewing the data with the magazine.
For Consumer Reports, the retraction is a big loss of face. The magazine is used to ruffling feathers, and companies that get bad reviews have been known to attack its test methodology. This time the criticisms of the magazine appear to have some weight.
Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.
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